That being said, I wanted to share another important date with you. Yesterday, December 1, was World AIDS Day. This pandemic disease has become more and more relevant to us as we learn more about Ethiopia. I began reading a new book last week titled There Is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene. The book is written by an American journalist who discovered an Ethiopian woman named Haregewoin Teferra who is defying all social codes and mores by trying to rescue the AIDS orphans in Ethiopia. This woman's journey and subsequent mission is sobering, humbling, and eye opening. AIDS is destroying an entire generation in Africa while we Westerners haven't a clue. I feel ashamed by our lack of knowledge and action. If you have any desire to learn more about my daughter's culture and country, please read this book. I can't tell you how much I have been touched by Haregewoin's life and story; I promise you won't be disappointed.
I want to leave you with a brief selection from this book.
Waiting in a clinic for the result of an HIV blood test, or for a child's blood test, is the archetypal experience of modern Africans.
The patient waiting for results may imagine that the outside world-the industrialized democracies of the West-once alerted to the terrible situation here, will ride to the rescue. Because how could people know and not help?
A few may suspect that the outside world has been fully informed, for there has been no shortage of experts. In fact, extensive documentation has been collected and collated, graphed and disseminated.
Stephen Lewis calls the voluble hobnobbing of experts on the subjects of global health and orphans "speakathons"; they "give credence," he writes, "to the proposition that if you talk about something for long enough, the illusion will be created that progress is being made...And I suppose there has been some progress in the world of reports, analyses, figures, tables, diagrams, and at least a thousand PowerPoint presentations, not to overlook throbbing intellectual rumination, but very little progress that's discernible in the lives of orphaned and vulnerable children on the ground."
The African patient, waiting for test results, discovers that the outside world, while not completely indifferent, is not going to intervene to save his or her life, or the child's.
Around the world, a few fantastically popular television shows strike me as bizarrely playful versions of contemporaneous darker scenes.
On American Idol and its many knockoffs, singing contestants wait for verdicts issued by seated judges. "Yes, you go on to the next round," they may hear; "See you tomorrow," or "No, your competition is over," "America has voted," "Your journey ends here." Viewers phone in votes for their favorites. In other shows, individuals fight for survival on island expeditions until they are voted off the show, off the island, by their erstwhile comrades. The last man or woman standing is crowned "the survivor."
These programs are "reality shows."
In Africa, by the hundreds and thousands and millions, but one by one, a person sits in a clinic waiting room, jumpy or still, feeling fine or feeling nauseous, coughing or not coughing. Or she squats outside in the dirt yard, holding her head in her hand, occasionally looking up and calling to her children not to wander too far. Each waits to hear his or her name called. Inside the examining room, a doctor or nurse or nurse's aide examine a slip of paper and looks up. The eyes speak first.
Negative: You advance to the next round. See you tomorrow.
Positive: America has voted. Your journey ends here.
There are no television cameras.
No viewers at home are cheering or weeping.
No viewers at home phoned in their individual votes. Most never knew anything was at stake.
"I have heard there are treatments," a woman will whisper.
"Not in our country," the doctor will say with a sad smile.
"Does it mean I will die soon?" a man will ask.
"Yes, I'm afraid that is what it means."
"I thought perhaps I just had a cold."
"No, I'm afraid not."
"Thank you, Doctor."